As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.
Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.
With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose.
Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war - The Washington Post
“No Sleep Till Benghazi”
Photo of rebel fighters in central Benghazi courtesy of IRIN
If this post looks a little familiar it’s because it began as my brief and cursory commentary about a classic Larry Burrows’ photo from the Vietnam War and LIFE magazine’s caption for it. The New York Times' CJ Chivers (whose Tumblr you can find and follow here) added to it and offers important commentary about the use of air power today. Don’t miss it:
Air war has evolved. And Western reliance on it, and the seductive promises of its power and precision, has freed military minds to engage in ground campaigns that otherwise would be impossible. Nick Turse, on the blog post below, and with the photograph above, shows American air power for what it was not too long ago. If you have ever been attacked by an aircraft, you know something of what this the scene above is like from the other side.
Read Mr. Turse’s post below. But don’t draw lines too bright between old practices and new. For all of the changes (many of them made possible by the technology behind guided munitions) modern Western militaries remain loathe to admit or examine their mistakes and eager to assure all listeners that all is well. For the rest of us, it remains difficult to assess how air-to-ground campaigns fare, and what they really bring us, as long as governments and alliances refuse to be transparent about them. You can frame a moral case that transparency and honesty are for the sake of victims, for survivors, for citizens who underwrite air power, and for bomb-disposal crews invariably summoned to clean up the post-war mess. And moral cases are good. But you can also frame a practical argument that transparency and honesty are essential for national security, which is not much improved, and arguably undermined, when noncombatants are killed — as field work in the face of government denials shows they are, again and again.
As the West uses its air power for plinking where it sees fit, are we better for it? Are we safer? We don’t offer an answer. But we do think on the questions, most every day, and chase for answers out in the places where the rockets and the bombs actually strike.
LIFE magazine captioned this as an “American twin-jet F-4C Phantom heading toward tiny riverside village known to be an important Vietcong site to bomb it during Vietnam War.” The problem of course is that all these villages that were “Vietcong strongholds”were filled with civilians — women, children, old men — who lost homes, limbs, and lives to American rockets.
Photographer: Larry Burrows, 1966
An aside: Nick Turse has a book out. It looks worth tossing into your backpack and packing into your head. Here.
I don’t trust Romney. He shouldn’t make my son’s death part of his political agenda.
2012 Failed States Index Released | The Fund for Peace
Today, the Fund for Peace today released the eighth edition of its annual Failed States Index (FSI), highlighting global political, economic and social pressures experienced by states. For the fifth straight year, Somalia — increasingly a war zone for the Obama administration — ranks number one. Afghanistan, a U.S. war zone for the last decade ranks a dismal six, Haiti — a frequent site of U.S. military invention throughout the last 100 years — comes in at number seven and Yemen, where the U.S. is also increasingly at war, is just behind at number eight on the list.
The Fund for Peace further explains that:
"Other notable changes this year include countries affected by the Arab Spring. Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia all ranked significantly worse than the previous year. Libya’s decline was the most remarkable, with the country registering the worst year-on-year worsening in the history of the FSI as a result of civil war, a NATO-led campaign of airstrikes and the toppling of the Qaddhafi regime. Similarly, Syria registered the fourth-greatest year-on-year worsening in the history of the FSI as the campaign of violence by the Assad government took hold.
In the wake of the massive earthquake and resultant nuclear crisis, Japan also worsened significantly. Though Japan continues to rank among the best seven percent of countries, Japan’s near-record worsening on the FSI demonstrates how susceptible even the most stable of nations are to sudden shocks.
Greece continued to decline as the economic crisis has gripped the country. A loss of confidence in the state, coinciding with the state’s lessened capacity to provide public services, have led to growing social pressures.
The Fund for Peace assessed South Sudan this year for the first time after the new nation gained its independence in the second half of 2011. Though the FSI does not formally rank South Sudan due to an incomplete year of data, the young nation nevertheless would have ranked approximately fourth, immediately behind its northern neighbor, Sudan. South Sudan’s fragile infrastructure, severe poverty, weak government, fraught relations with Sudan and heavy reliance on oil continue to be of concern.”